Thursday, April 05, 2007

Ndukwe tasks OPS on rural ICT diffusion

THE Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Dr. Ernest Ndukwe has tasked the Organised Private Sector (OPS) within the telecommunications industry to be proactive on proffering solution that would boost the rural Information and Communication Technology (ICT) penetration in the country.

Speaking at this year’s telecom stakeholders forum on the theme “Telecom Franchise & Virtual Operation: Accelerating Service Provisioning in Rural Nigeria,” in Lagos, Dr. Ndukwe who presided over the event said in his remark that it is no longer debatable if the nation’s rural areas are yearning for telecommunications services, but how to cover them should be top on the OPS agenda.

The forum was organised by the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) in collaboration with NCC and Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF).

“It’s worthy to note that many rural areas are still uncovered,” he said, stressing that his commission is working hard to ensure that the universal access to all parts of Nigeria is achieved within a short period, just as he reminded stakeholders that coverage in this instance means providing voice and data through broadband solution.

According to him, fora like this should not have more than two government agencies making presentations, but rather, OPS should use that as an opportunity to inform the government and its agencies of their expectations in moving the country and the industry forward by proffering solutions.

“Government does not have the intention to compete with the OPS in achieving this goal of accelerating ICT in rural areas,” he declared.

He pointed out that NCC has initiated various rural telephony projects including State Accelerated Broadband Initiative (SABI) and the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) is ready to work with the OPS to actualise this goal.

He used the opportunity to disclose that USPF would soon publish its plan for the extension of access to rural Nigeria, which must be from button-up structure.

Dr. Ndukwe therefore invited ICT companies to avail themselves the opportunity being displayed by USPF through ensuring that they submit proposals when the plan is published.

As said by him, the plans of NCC and sister agencies strong delegation from the government in participating in the forum, was to give them first-hand information.

“The forum should generate ideas to enable government know how best to support the industry to grow,” he asserted.

Also, the special guest of honour, Minister of Science and Technology, Prof. Turner Isoun represented by Director of Technology Acquisition and Assessment in the ministry, Dr. Umaru Bindir, advised OPS to reach out to rural communities in the country through establishing presence in all the 740 local government areas nationwide.

Prof. Isoun equally noted that about 70 per cent of the population, which is in the rural areas are yet to have various access as far as telecommunications is concerned.

He counselled the forum to ensure that they channel their desire to develop rural communities in the country by engaging other industry groups rather than themselves, emphasising that this way, they would be attracting interests from other industries into telecommunications sector.

“I want to see industry groups to talk to groups of people outside this groups such as farmers so that they would know where fertiliser is and at the most affordable prices,” he said.

Speaking earlier in his welcome address, ATCON president, Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem said that though the desire may be there to involve the rural communities in the country in telecommunications evolutions, there are questions begging for answers.

These, he said, include how many of the telcos are ready to deploy services to these underserved communities, waive their profits by seeing rural telephony as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) among others.

He charged stakeholders to think of what would benefit the telecom industry in the country by coming up with feasible suggestions.

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